*The Career Improvement Club* – Explaining a break between jobs

Advice, Business, Career

Published 25th September 2020

Explaining a break between jobs to an employer can be tricky, especially if you’ve had to take time off due to an injury, many potential employers and recruiters can see this as a red flag. So, what is the best way to present a gap in your employment history due to illness or injury? Well, firstly lets start with what the law says…

What does the law say?

If you are applying for a new job, your potential employer cannot legally discriminate against you because of a previous injury.

You are not required to disclose an injury or ongoing health condition, but you may choose to if your health could affect your ability to carry out your new role. You may also wish to disclose an injury so that your employer can take reasonable steps to accommodate you.

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, it is illegal for an employer to dismiss an employee for taking legal action after an accident at work. Prospective employers are not allowed to ask if you took legal action – if they do ask, the employer could face similar legal consequences to asking questions about race, sexuality or religious belief.

So if the law is clear, what’s the problem?

Post-COVID-19, the number of applicants for every position is increasing. Now, more than ever, employers need to shortlist candidates in the most efficient way. Employers will pick up on unexplained employment history gaps, especially if recent. Recruiters under pressure to shortlist CVs might, unjustifiably, use an unexplained gap as an excuse for immediate rejection.

However, if your CV explains that your time off was due to injury, the employer, knowing nothing of the facts, might unfairly characterise you as ‘accident-prone’ or a health and safety risk. Employers may also worry that you could have an ongoing injury that will lead to you taking further time off if you get the job.

The only alternative, bar outright dishonesty, is to be vague with dates. But this approach can look suspicious – leading an employer to infer something negative about your time off work.

So how should you address time off work due to injury?

In compiling your CV, the aim is to present yourself in the best possible light. The CV is a stepping stone to getting an interview but whatever you write, you must be honest and consistent.

The optimal way to present time off depends on your circumstances. A few weeks or even a couple of months between past jobs shouldn’t raise eyebrows. However, if you have an unbroken history of relevant work experience but have an uncharacteristic gap in your CV, it could raise questions.

Explaining a recent gap in your CV

If you are currently off work due to injury, you could say that you view this position as the perfect way to get back into work. Stress that, although you were unable to work for a period, you have since returned to full health and are raring to go.

If you had a recent or short gap, the usual advice is to give your dates of employment in years rather than months. For example ‘2017 to 2019’ rather than ‘March 2017 to July 2019’. Employers will take notice of this however and you can expect to be asked questions about dates at the interview. If you subsequently have to reveal that you were off work for 8 months and have attempted to conceal it in your CV, this won’t work in your favour.

A better approach might be to be open about the gap, giving a clear reason why you took time off and explaining how you used the time constructively. Perhaps you took an online course, or got up to speed with industry news?

Injuries are an occupational hazard, but the story of your recovery could improve your prospects and make you stand out in a positive sense.

You could frame the time off as a set of dates, and present the experience gained in the period like a job.

For example:

“May 2018 – October 2018 – Personal and career development – I was unable to work for several months due to a serious injury. I took the opportunity to improve my coding skills and took an online course in JavaScript.”

Explaining a gap in your CV from two years ago

If you have held numerous employed positions going back years, you can certainly dial back the detail. To do otherwise might make for an overly detailed CV. Unless certain experience is very relevant, employers will be less concerned about the details of a job you held 10-15 years ago. Similarly, employers will be less concerned about decade-old gaps in your employment.

The longer your employment history, the more a gap will look reasonable. It might even look strange if you don’t have any gaps.

Honesty is generally the best policy, but you could simply leave a gap. It would be wise to have a short answer prepared anyway, just in case the gap comes up during your interview.

What if the injury happened in a previous job?

The law makes two things absolutely clear:

  1. If you are injured at work due to an employer’s negligence, you have a right to claim compensation

  2. You cannot be discriminated against by an employer for making an injury claim

Despite these clear principles, the reality is that some employers may be prejudiced against a worker who has claimed compensation in the past. If you have made a compensation claim against a previous employer, should you disclose this on your CV, or in an interview?

Should I mention compensation claims in my CV?

Probably not. You don’t have to disclose that you made a claim, and your employer should not ask. Although it may be sensible to disclose your injury on your CV to explain a gap, in most cases there is no reason to mention the claim.

What if the claim comes up during an interview?

Although the interviewer should not ask the question directly, the topic of your injury may come up during the interview. You are under no obligation to reveal that you claimed compensation, but it is unwise to lie or mislead your prospective employer. If the employer subsequently discovers the deception, they may revoke a job offer.

You should have an answer prepared if the issue comes up. If you raise the fact that you were injured at work and made a claim, it will seem more open and honest, and gives you the opportunity to set the narrative and present what happened in the best possible light. This also gives the interviewer a chance to ask any follow-up questions.

If your injury was traumatic and you don’t want to discuss what happened in detail, you could let the HR representative or interviewer know this beforehand, by email.

Could the employer find out I made a claim?

If you decide to say nothing during the interview, there is still a risk that the employer discovers that you made a claim when they check at your social media profiles, or follow up on references.

Although the employer must not discriminate against you for making a claim, they may (perhaps wrongly) take the view that you should have said something and that omitting the information is deceptive. In any case, after the interview ends, it is usually too late for you to spin the injury claim in a positive light.

Social media accounts

Most employers will review an applicant’s social media profile during the recruitment process. You should make sure that your LinkedIn profile mirrors the details of your work history on your CV.

You should also check that your other social media profiles, such as Facebook, don’t contradict any representations you have made on your CV.

Conclusion

Tailoring a bespoke CV for each potential employer is good advice generally. If you are concerned about a gap, a bespoke CV allows you to accentuate the positive, underline relevant skills and experience, and play down areas that are less supporting of your application.

Another option might be to address the CV gap in the covering statement or letter.

“I needed to take some time off to deal with a health issue,” is a useful stock response. It is honest, and should ward off interviewers from pressing further. If you are fully recovered or any ongoing health conditions are being managed effectively, you could stress how eager you are to get back on track.

We’ve covered cover letter writing advice extensively in the past along with choosing the right CV for you, however if you need direct or personal advice please feel free to reach out to me directly – get in touch.

Blog written by Suzie Finch – The Career Improvement Club – CV Templates / Resume Designs